The first signs of spring are in full display. Never before have I been so welcoming of spring. This past winter was harsher than usual and experiencing it in our new home which is surrounded by trees only made it seem worse.  After an especially cold winter, I feel specially invigorated by the advent of spring! I enjoy the crispness in the air, the prospect of longer days and I look forward to seeing fresh vegetables in the farmer’s market. Nature always has its own way of quite literally springing tiny pleasant surprises urging us to take notice.

Our Sunday morning visits to the local farmer’s market have once again become a weekly ritual that I really look forward to. The soothing sight of fresh and vibrant produce complements the hustle and bustle and I feel tempted to buy everything that is arrayed in front of me!

When I head back home, I start thinking about how to prepare tasty, healthy foods that are easy to cook on a weekday. I try to experiment by completely reinventing the recipe or by making small changes like adding cumin seeds instead of mustard seeds.

Some vegetables have been used only in a particular way that I feel bored at the thought of having to make them using the same recipes. One such vegetable is the baby eggplant. I am sure there must be several ways of preparing them, but one dish that immediately comes to mind is Bharwa Baigan. (Stuffed eggplant)

Last Sunday when I picked up baby eggplant, I mentally swore that I would make something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Even though it is delicious, it is also quite tedious and time consuming to prepare. As I let my imagination play with these fresh baby eggplants, my aim was to come up with a recipe that was simple to cook and tasty. So here’s the recipe from my Sunday experiment with baby eggplant.


Achari Baigan
Yield: 3 servings
Total Time: 45 minutes
Achari Baigan, Eggplant Dish
Ingredients
12 baby eggplants
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chili powder
3 tablespoons mustard oil
(You can use any oil for this)
Pinch asafetida powder (Hing)
1 medium onion sliced thin

Mix together:
2 medium tomatoes pureed
3 teaspoons sambhar powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp sugar to taste
Salt
2 tablespoons yogurt
½ tsp garam masala
Chopped cilantro to garnish

Steps
1. Make two perpendicular cuts in the form of a cross at the base of the eggplant. Sprinkle salt, turmeric powder and chili powder and massage the insides of the eggplants. Keep aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil into the pan and once it is heated, add in the marinated eggplants.
Stir fry for about 3-4 minutes till the eggplants are charred slightly on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. In the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it is heated, add in the asafetida and sliced onions.
4. Sauté till the onions soften and are pink in color (less than 1-2 mins). Now, mix in the dry masala with the tomato puree and add to the oil.
5. Add ½ cup of water and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes till oil floats on the top.
6. Then, add in the sautéed eggplant into the masala and continue to sauté till the eggplant is soft.
7. Now add in the yogurt, mix well and sprinkle in the garam masala and cook for 1-2 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Notes:
1. To reduce cooking time, add a little oil to the marinating eggplants and place in the microwave on high for 4 minutes. This softens the eggplants and reduces cooking time on the stove.
2. To make this dish look fancy, you can add a tempering of mustard seeds, asafetida and curry leaves at the end. It adds a touch of sophistication to the dish and yes, the extra love too.
3. I use mustard oil to make it typically achari (pickle-like); you can use any oil that you want.
Having experimented with eggplant, I was immensely satisfied with the results. It was all the more gratifying since I had finally chosen to do something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Serve it with plain rice and dal or some pulao. This is a must-make vegetarian dish for all who are eggplant lovers. Don’t be afraid to play around with the recipe and remember to always have fun experimenting!n
A science educator with an ardent love for experimentation in the kitchen, Jagruti writes about cooking in her blog The Turmeric Kitchen. To help popularize her otherwise not very well known East Indian heritage, she writes extensively about Odia food and about dishes that evoke nostalgia of her days growing up in Odisha.

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